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  • Writer's pictureCatharine Riggs

The Brother Who Ran for Daylight

I just had to share this poignant essay written by my good friend Mark Patton after the passing of his brother. It was first published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on March 11, 2018. I think it will touch anyone who has lost a sibling or a childhood friend....


By MARK PATTON. Senior Writer. Santa Barbara News-Press

As a kid, I had this crazy dream.

`I'm standing at the top of an expansive stadium and finding nowhere to sit. The crowd's roar is hurting my ears so much that I look for an exit.

And then I see why everybody is shouting: My little brother Kevin is on the field – carrying a football and running for daylight.

That's what I always yelled when I targeted him inside our house: "Better run for daylight, kid!"

I was constantly tackling him, and the guilt from that is probably why the dream stuck with me for all these years.

He'd try to get away, but I was four years older and would always catch him – when he was still little, anyway.

I'd wrap him up in a bear hug and pull him down onto the carpeted floor, although I'd make sure to have him land on top of me.

Kevin was always laughing and scheming as a kid, and we had to keep him in his place of the pecking order of Patton brothers. But you never want to hurt a kid who's smiling all the time.

He was third in the line of the four brothers but became the most likely to play in an expansive football stadium. He grew up big and strong and athletic, and was one of the early stars of Santa Barbara's fledgling Youth Football League.

I began to wonder if my dream of watching him play in one of those big stadiums had actually been a vision.

He'd been trained well in our games of living-room football, a sport that had been expressly banned by our father. Kevin was always my teammate, while our eldest brother Greg would take Sean, the youngest.

Kevin the Schemer concocted the trickiest of passing plays in those days, but his strong right arm was often too big for our living room. Eventually, one of his missiles glanced off my fingertips and obliterated Mom's new living room lamp.

The violation drew not a penalty flag – but Dad's belt.

"Ok, which of you boys is going first?" he growled.

I volunteered. Best to get it out of the way. Greg went next, then Sean.

Kevin was nowhere to be found for a minute or so, but then emerged from his bedroom and bent himself over Dad's knee.

Our father looked puzzled for a moment, and then he erupted in laughter. Kevin the Schemer had stuck a hard-cover book into the back of his pants.

"Just go! Get out of here before I change my mind!" he said as he pulled Kevin off his knee. That drew protests from the rest of us, but Dad just shook his head and said, "Sorry boys, but I just don't have it in me now."

Dad always had a soft spot for the happy-go-lucky little devil, and Kevin knew it.

Little did we know, however, that a real devil was taking root in our home. Dad came down with throat cancer. Within three years, he was gone.

It took the happy-go-lucky right out of Kevin. He was 14 the first time I caught him drunk. Drugs entered his life soon after.

He still looked promising in workouts for the Santa Barbara High football team – until coach Sam Cathcart caught him smoking marijuana behind Peabody Stadium.

Cathcart was our neighbor on Cordova Drive, but that gained no reprieve for Kevin. Coach had a strict policy about alcohol and drug use, and there were no exemptions.

"I'm sorry, son," coach Cathcart told Kevin, "but you're off the team."

By early adulthood, my brother was using his athletic prowess to elude the police even while completely stoned. He told me about one particularly wild car and foot chase after a patrol car had spotted him weaving through the streets of Santa Barbara.

He eventually ditched his car and ran for daylight.

The police, of course, tracked him down a day or two later.

But jail was where Kevin finally found the light. A Catholic Brother named Charles began counseling him, seeing the same goodness in my brother as our father once had.

And the more Kevin learned about the walk of Jesus Christ – of His unconditional love for us, and of the forgiveness He always extends – the more Kevin wanted to learn about Him.

And on New Year's Day of 1991, my brother was reborn.

He became Brother Charles' protegé, and was soon making his own rounds in jails far and wide to counsel inmates about their drug and alcohol issues.

He earned a divinity degree and became a pastor, first in the foothill town of Sonora, and later in Naples, Fla., where our mother had gone to live.

Kevin, who was as handy as he was athletic, took several trips to earthquake-ravaged Haiti to dig water wells ... and save souls.

And that was where my vision came true. Kevin took the stage inside a packed stadium in Port-au-Prince and swept up 10,000 Haitians in the embrace of his laughter and words – and led them toward God's light.

We were roommates at a family reunion soon after, talking into the wee hours. He told me how hungry they were for the good Word, and how he must've been hugged 10,000 times that day.

That's when I finally apologized for all the times I'd tackled him as a kid.

Kevin let out one of his hearty laughs and said, "Don't sweat it, brother ... It's not your fault that I'm so damned huggable."

He became our mother's caregiver when she took deathly ill, cooking and cleaning for her and taking care of her every need. She apologized every time he had to carry her to the bathroom. Each time he told her it was "an honor and a privilege," and thanked her for allowing him to make amends for all the things he'd done wrong.

He'd broken her favorite lamp, after all.

A year and a half ago, a few years after Mom passed on, Kevin and his black labrador, Hannah, moved to Boise where our oldest brother lives. Kevin was excited about establishing a new ministry.

But one last abrupt turn remained in the life of my younger brother. Greg called with the news on Monday, almost disbelieving what he was telling me: Kevin had died unexpectedly that morning.

He was only 59. The doctors suspect an aneurysm.

I was on the phone seeking solace from my sister Colleen later that day. We shared stories about our loving, lovable brother – laughing at some, sobbing about others.

I finally told her how incredibly sad this all was.

"Only for us," she said. "I just know that when Kevin saw the light, he was laughing and happy ... and so excited to run into it."

And no one would be able to tackle him now.

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